Kelly Link talks about Pretty Monsters


We at One Story can barely keep up with the success of our authors.  This month we were lucky enough to interview Kelly Link, whose short story “The Great Divorce” was One Story issue # 59.  Kelly’s new collection Pretty Monsters was published by Viking Children’s Books in October.  Pretty Monsters has received outstanding reviews, and was included on Amazon’s 2008 list of Top Ten Books for Teens.

Kelly Link is the award-winning author of Stranger Things Happen and Magic for Beginners (selected by Time Magazine as one of the Best Books of 2005).  The recipient of a 2006 NEA grant, Link lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she and her husband Gavin J. Grant run Small Beer Press who, among other great offerings, publish Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, a consistently brilliant literary magazine.

Here Kelly talks about loving dead people, exhuming ex girlfriends, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other subjects of Pretty Monsters.

The stories in Pretty Monsters seem to have a shared, funny narrator, giving the sense they are being related to us by a friend.  Was your intention to have a continuous narrative feel?

Point of view is a way of manipulating distance.  You can get inside the heads of your characters, and then draw back and comment on those characters’ prejudices or peculiarities through the filter of that intermediary, your narrator.  It allows for lateral movement.  And of course you (and now I mean you the reader as well as you the writer) may begin to suspect that the narrator has their own agenda or story.  There’s more of a sense of play, of elasticity when the characters want one thing and the narrator may want something else.

It can also be a way of tethering a story that heads off into fantastic or supernatural territory.

Until you asked, I hadn’t actually thought about how many narrators were lurking and loitering in these stories.  They’re smart alecks, aren’t they?  It’s a relief to hear they’re likable, which is not to say always trustworthy, I hope.

The kids in the story “Magic for Beginners” are obsessed with a “reality show” called The Library, whose reality bleeds into the real lives of the characters, who may or may not be characters on the show itself.  Was The Library based on a real TV show?

The story “Magic for Beginners” was based on the experience of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I moved from Somerville, MA to Brooklyn to Northampton, MA during the seven years Buffy was on, and the one thing all of the places I lived had in common, besides too many books, was a room with a television where we got together with various friends to watch new episodes and then dissect, praise, complain, rewrite and rewatch.  It was an enormously social experience, and it’s not one I’ve had since Buffy ended.  I wanted to write something that would capture the way it feels to be a fan and a member of a fandom.

On the other hand, the television show itself, The Library, was my attempt to write all the things that would be–if not impossible, then at least costly and impractical–to do in an actual television show.  Like having different actors take over key roles in each episode, and putting in elaborate settings and all manner of special effects.

Speaking as a slush reader, there’s nothing worse than a piece of fiction that reads like a transcript of an episode of a television show, and so, in self-defense I started to wonder what could be done in fiction with a television show that you couldn’t actually do using a camera, a script and a bunch of actors.

People loving dead people pops up here and there in the stories.  Jeremy loves Fox (who may or may not be dead on a show that may or may not be “reality”), Miles loves Bethany (a teenaged-sweetheart whose grave he digs up to recover his poems).  Was it a happy accident to have so much death and loss in the collection, or was it an intentional theme?

Well, that collision between love and death is inevitable, isn’t it?  There are a fair number of ghosts in this collection because I love ghost stories.  There are some bloodthirsty monsters because when I was a kid, I loved reading monster stories.  Pretty Monsters is actually a young adult collection, and so these stories needed to have a certain dramatic urgency.  The possibility of death raises the stakes.  So does the threat of humiliation.

“The Faery Handbag” is a story about a magic pocketbook that contains several changing worlds.  Where did you come up with the idea for this story?

I’ve always loved stories where the insides of something were bigger than the outside.  I was drawing on folklore about fairy hills and people going in for one night and coming out hundreds of years later.  I was also inspired by a friend who proposed marriage to his girlfriend on a Scrabble board.  I started to think about other uses that Scrabble boards and tiles might have, such as divination.

What influenced your decision to make so many of the main characters young?

I like writing from the point of view of children, or young adults.  They’re in this weird transitional space, between worlds.  Their actions have real consequences, but that doesn’t mean that they’re taken seriously.  They’re specialists in music, or dinosaurs or clothing labels.  They want things with a kind of great and terrible intensity that makes them great characters to write about.  They say things that adults wouldn’t let themselves say.  When I write about adults, I’m most interested in writing about adults who have retained some of these qualities.

Why do you write, for lack of a better word, fantastically?  Do you hope to get at human emotion through alternative means?  Is it just more fun?

I don’t know that I have a particularly good reason at the moment.  It’s not just that writing fantasy, or ghost stories, is more fun, because I’m not sure I’m willing to go on the record saying writing is fun.  Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.  But certainly I’m more interested in the fantastic and the weird, in the experimental and pulp traditions.  It just feels like more expansive territory.  You can still use all the tools of realistic fiction.  You’ve just got this other, complimentary set of tools as well.

I love Angela Carter’s fiction, Joe Hill’s short stories.  The world that matters most to me is the kind of fiction that I imprinted on, and never stopped reading.  That’s science fiction, fantasy, ghost stories, Stephen King and Terry Pratchett.  I’m an unapologetic fan of space opera, heroic fantasy, hobbits, novels about dragons like Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books.  I still read young adult fantasy by writers like Ysabeau Wilce and Elizabeth Knox, M.T. Anderson and Diana Wynne Jones.  So maybe these are all the reasons why I write what I write, because I want to create work that will exist, at least partially, in that same space.

3 thoughts on “Kelly Link talks about Pretty Monsters

  1. I don’t fully understand the facination with adorable monsters except to say that I am completely enthralled with everything from the shameless gothic romance of “Twighlight” to much darker tales like “Let Me In”.

  2. Pingback: Fiction Writers Review » Blog Archive » Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

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